31 December, 2021

Timely Inspiration

I love to read other people's blogs; I guess it's the voyeur in me wanting to know how other folks live, what they do for fun, what they cook and eat.  I especially like to broaden my culinary horizons.  It felt like the stars aligned when I saw a fellow blogger mention  cream of apple and parsnip soup he and his partner served at a recent dinner party they hosted because for the first time in my life I had purchased parsnips!  I've never even eaten parsnips and had no idea what to do with them, so I was happy for the inspiration (Thanks Steve!).  I even had apples on hand - can't remember the last time I bought them in Belize - usually you can find only red delicious at the produce stands but this time I found Gala and Granny Smiths.  Other finds were wonderfully fresh leeks, which are hit or miss down here, and fresh cream from a Belize dairy.  I searched online for recipes, found 3 that looked reasonable, and combined the best parts to make my first ever dish using parsnips - Cream of Roasted Parsnip, Leek, and Apple Soup.

Plenty of counterspace next to the air fryer in the outdoor kitchen

I cut up the whites of the leeks and the parsnips for roasting.

Leeks sliced open on the bottom basket.

Parsnips on the top basket.  All spritzed with olive oil.  I put a spacer basket between the leeks and the parsnips for good air circulation.
Popped the baskets into the air fryer for 15 minutes at 400F while I cut up the green parts of the leeks and granny smith apples.
Nearly 6 cups of loosely packed leeks and apples.

Into a quart of duck broth from our Christmas duck.

After 10 minutes, the parsnips were just beginning to brown.  Turned the slices over and spritzed with more olive oil for the last 15 minutes.

Roasted leeks.

Roasted parsnips.

Added the roasted veg and crushed garlic to the pot and simmered for 15 minutes while thinking "oh my gosh - I hope the immersion blender is up to this because I really don't want to use the regular blender."

Kickass immersion blender.
One of the recipes called for seasoning with cinnamon, curry powder, cardamon, black pepper, salt, and dried coriander.  I had everything (except the coriander), so in it all went.
Fresh cream from the dairy, so wonderfully different to the cream you get in the US.
Stirred in the thick cream, heated to almost boiling and here you go -
Cream of Roasted Parsnip, Leek, and Apple soup.

A little greener than many versions because I used the leek greens and didn't peel the green apples.  It was/is/will be wonderful.  Which is a good thing because it made 3 quarts!

30 December, 2021

Outdoor Kitchen

We set up our outdoor kitchen a couple of months ago.  The biggest motivation was to keep the heat out of the cabana.  And the next biggest was to keep the smells out if we had the new AC running and all the windows closed while cooking.  We had been moving the air fryer and the small oven out to the veranda to use them, which was a big help but a total pain in the butt because we had to bring them back inside.  We couldn't leave them out there because the veranda faces the sea and the salt air corrodes the electrical components so quickly.  What to do to make it easier?  I decided to have our guys build a cabinet to house the appliances and even got to the point of drawing up the specs for it.  Then Dennis, smart guy that he is, suggested seeing what Ikea might have ready made.  The search was on.  Ikea had nothing suitable for outdoor use that met our needs.  The search moved to Amazon where there were many, many possibilities.  Those possibilities were quickly diminished by considerations of budget, quality (lack thereof mostly), size, availability, and shipping costs.  Finally there remained one clear possibility, which I ordered immediately.  

The next day after receiving the unit - oh wait, next day delivery is only a dream for us.  Five weeks later after ordering the unit, having it sent to our shipper in Florida  who put it on a boat to Belize, cleared our order through customs, and delivered it to our friend in Independence who owns a lumberyard and securely stores things for us until we come retrieve them, we unpacked the flat pack -  the process runs on as long as this sentence does!  The instructions list 149 steps, but it was actually straight forward for someone like me who loves to put things together.  I only needed Dennis's help to get the countertop in place.

Space inside the cabinet to store the toaster oven and air fryer away from the sea air when not in use.
Several reviews of the cabinet noted that the stainless top corrodes pretty quickly, so I am psychologically prepared to deal with replacing the top sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, I keep it wiped down using oiled wipes that are meant to clean guns.  They work a treat on other stainless steel items we have.  
The air fryer about to be used.
The new cabinet sits right outside the kitchen window with one of our dining tables  2 steps away.  We put in an electric line, but still need to use an extension cord.  So far it works very well and I usually even remember to put the appliances away after they cool down.  Best of all - if I turn around this is what I see -
Air fryer POV.

29 December, 2021

Christmas Cakes

These two lovely Christmas cakes were thoughtful gifts from two families for whom we had done small kindnesses this year.  On the left is the traditional Belizean Black Cake made with dried fruit.  The rich black color is from deeply caramelized sugar.  Wonderfully dense and moist.  The one on the right is a simple yellow cake, sweet, light, and delicious.  Sweeter yet to be remembered.

28 December, 2021

The Past Won't Stay Buried

In the photo below is a piece of old wire that we pulled up out of the ground and draped on a tree until we were ready to dispose of it.   We stumble, literally at times, across these sections of wire poking up out of the ground.

It is the remnants of a phone line that used to connect coastal towns and villages to the seat of colonial government in Belize City.  The phone line was critical because roads for motorized vehicles did not exist in the southern part of the country. Transportation was mostly by sea, river, and canal.  Sections of this wire keep re-emerging from the ground as the sands shift, the wind blows, rains fall.  It used to run from north of Pine Ridge Creek all the way to the Monkey River Village before the road was put in.  Poles supported it above the swamp and across the creeks and rivers.  Apparently, the village had a "village" phone, as did most villages in what was then British Honduras.  A Belizean friend of ours has childhood memories of cranking the handle on the phone line a particular number of times depending on which village you wanted to reach!   When we were making arrangements to come down to stay in Monkey River Village the first time in 1999, we rang up the village phone to make our reservations at the Monkey House.  But surely, by then it was the a new line that followed the Monkey River Road, which took a more inland route to the village than the old phone line did.   Good thing it was the new line we called on because that would have been a lot of cranking to reach the village all the way from Minnesota!  Eventually the old phone line was abandoned, but not removed.  Poles rotted and collapsed, or were blown over in hurricanes, leaving behind sections of intact phone wire, covered over by sand and detritus, all along the Englishtown shoreline and even back across Pine Ridge Creek. 

Below is a copy of an excerpt from an official publication of government budgetary proceedings when Belize was still the British Colony called British Honduras.  I can't put my hands on the original source at the moment, but my recollection is that it is from the 1940s.

In that excerpt "Belize" refers to Belize City, which was the capital at the time, and Stann Creek refers to the town of Dangriga, which is located between Monkey River and Belize City.  Punta Gorda is the still the largest (indeed, the only) town south of Monkey River.  In 1950s and 60s, Monkey River Town was a bustling place, much larger than today.  Large banana and citrus plantations were the primary enterprise.  Toward the end of the 1960s both industries collapsed due to plant diseases.  That marked a rapid decline in the population of Monkey River, demoting it in status  from Town to Village.  Now the primary enterprises are tourism and fishing.  At the same time, the "suburb" of Englishtown became a place for weekends and summers, with no year round population in residence.

Also interesting is use of the word "wireless communication" in the excerpt, referring to the original radio "wireless".  These days, wireless is the primary means of communication not only in Belize, but worldwide.  Just last month, one of the two Belizean telecommunication providers installed a new tower in the village so that residents can more easily get good wireless internet and phone service.  That is a real boon to the villagers, especially the children who are still relying on remote learning part of the time.  We are back to wireless, and this time it's a good thing.

24 December, 2021

Shoring Up The Shore, Pt 2

The fabric is all in place and held down by river sand. The river sand has been spread out, but needs a little more work to blend it in with the sea sand. I am very pleased with how it is looking. Today, I have some photos of little red mangroves that we planted in hopes they will grow and spread to provide a longer lasting defense. It's a bit of a compromise because while red mangroves grow naturally on the parcel to our south, they do not grow along the shore of Englishtown proper. But then again, sea walls aren't natural either. Life is a compromise. 
Those little tufts of green are red mangrove seedlings.  We planted 9 north of the dock and about 15 to the south.
Our biggest concern with the sea wall is that it is a barrier to sea turtles coming ashore to nest. I can sooth my conscience  a little bit by recognizing that before the sea wall, they couldn't come ashore right here any longer because the sea had eaten away the sloped shoreline and left behind a vertical cliff. But what we want to do is to re-establish a shore that the turtles nest along. To that end, we are tryng out what I call turtle ramps. The ramps will require ongoing maintenance to keep them turtle friendly, but we can do that. 
The turtle ramp needs a lot of attention before June when the turtles might start to explore potential nest sites.  It is basically a low spot in the sea wall with a shallow slope the turtles can crawl up.
We did have at least one turtle successfully access the area above the sea wall this past nesting season. I'm not sure if she came up the turtle ramp or crawled along the shore from north of the sea wall. 
Natural beach to the north of our sea wall.  It is very attractive to turtles!
There was quite a bit of nesting activity to the north of the sea wall and I saw evidence of 3 successful hatchings even though I didn't see any actual baby turtles. We keep that part of the shore free of barriers such as fallen trees, washed up trash, etc.
Enlarge to see lots of little fishies in the water!
The sea was sparkly and clear today, and the midday sun warmed the sand to toasty bliss for Barnie.  A perfect day for us all.

23 December, 2021

Two Ships Are Better Than One

A quick walk for the dogs at dawn this morning so that I could make a last, quick, shopping trip to Placencia before Christmas.   This was what I saw before the sun came up:

Cruise ship on the horizon.  You night have to zoom in to see it.

Tourism, which is the lifeblood of Belize, has been recovering slowly.  It is good to see tour boats go by everyday taking visitors on guided trips up the Monkey River.  One of the guides from Monkey River Village has the major contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines for Monkey River Boat Tours.  He has 2 large and several small boats, each of which must have a captain/tour guide and a "sailor" - an important source of income for quite a few families in the village.  Anyway, when I was walking the second dog, I saw a second cruise ship coming in.  A welcomed sight after almost 2 years of no ships at all.  I took a few more photos on the trip to and from Placencia this morning.

Two cruise ships.
The larger ship is docked at the NCL private island "Harvest Caye".  The ship dwarfs the little caye.  The smaller ship is anchored at sea and passengers are tendered in to the island and to Placencia and Independence for land-based tours.
The smaller cruise ship and one of the Monkey River tour boats full of passengers.
I ran my usual errands - bank, pharmacy, grocery stores (2), gas/petrol fill up, produce stands (2) - then was on my way back home.  The gracious owners of the grocery store we frequent included a small holiday gift in our order.
A Chinese calendar wall scroll, Christmas Canes, cookies, and  - my favorite - fancy loose tea leaves.

22 December, 2021

Passion Flower

It has been a very busy day today, so all I have is a couple of photos of the two-flowered passionflower (Passiflora biflora) from a couple of years ago.  The flowers and fruits come in pairs (surprise!).  Even the little yellow spots on the leaves are in pairs.  They are nectaries that attract ants.

There is a little ant at the nectary at the leaf base just right of the flower.

21 December, 2021

Shoring Up The Shore, Pt 1

Our property is situated so that it bears the full force of the sea due to a gap in the reef just to the east of us.  When conditions are right (really, when they are wrong!), the waves wash out our beach and eat into the shore.  Three years ago, it was so bad that we lost 12 feet overnight and then kept losing more.  We hired a company to put in a sea wall for us and backfill with all the sand that had washed out.  They did a great job (I will probably blog about it one day), but they underestimated the ferocity the waves can sometimes attain.  Right now our project - and we always have a project - is to reinforce the seawall with a slightly new design.

View from the dock looking north.  There are several series of emergency sandbags we had to deploy.  The entire top tier of large rocks has fallen into the sea.

View from the dock looking south.  The erosion is not as bad on this side.
We are focused now on the north half of the shoreline.  Our approach is to lay Geotex construction fabric as a barrier to prevent the sand from washing out through the rocks and then backfill with river sand.  Our workers spent 3 weeks hauling sand from up the Monkey River.  They can probably haul about a dumptruck load or more a week.  Too bad we can't just call up Home Depot and have it delivered! 

The giant roll of geotex is 390 feet long, and we needed 165 feet for the north end. 

Giant roll of geotex.

The guys rolled out the 165 feet so that it would be more manoeuvrable off the roll.
Measuring out 165 feet of geotex.
Once they had the 165 feet of fabric situated near the shore, they began prepping the base by removing sharp rocks, filling holes, shoring up the seawall itself so the fabric could be placed its west (inland) side.
Discussing the most efficient way to prep the base layer.
Once the base was prepped for the first third of the length, they rolled out the fabric and held it in place with rocks.
Fabric stretched out for the first ~55 feet. 
Adjustments were made to the base and then rocks were placed to anchor the fabric in place.
The river sand is coarser and a more golden color than the grey sea sand.

Those 3 dumptruck loads worth of sand got used up quickly.
We wanted this first 55 feet to be a trial run before we did the entire north end.  That way we could see if adjustments needed to be made or if we needed to come up with an entirely different plan.  The sea gave us a test that night -

After - very little sand washed away.  Yay!
Looks like our approach passed the test.  Just a few little adjustments before we finish backfilling with sand and we are good to go!

The guys will finish with the north shore before the end of the week and then start on the south shore.  The south shore will be much easier because none of the big rocks were dislodged.  I can't wait to see the completed project!  In the meantime I leave you with -
my stoney, but sun-warmed, heart.

20 December, 2021

Dallas in July

I go to Dallas for my medical care - that's where I had my shoulder evaluated.  I started going there in 2016 for cataract surgery and was very pleased with the care I received, so decided to get all my healthcare there.  I always stay at a hotel that is near Love Field, where SW Airlines flies, and not too far from DFW.  The hotel is  adjacent to Bachman Lake City Park, which gives me a nice place to walk and run.

Sunrise behind Bachman Lake.  Love Field Airport is along the far shore on the right.  Hotel is waaaay back around a bend on the lake at the left.  Took this shot from atop the dam at the west end of the lake.

My friend Vivian came to stay with me for this trip since I had to have eye surgery (removal of an epiretinal membrane that was distorting the vision in my right eye).  The surgery was easy and I only had to rest for a day.  Vivian and I decided to go to some museums and escape the heat.  Dallas has some lovely museums.  The photos below are from the Dallas Museum of Art.  I guess I was still a little wonky from the surgery, plus I had a patch over one eye, so I didn't get details from the exhibits.

Huge stone with cores cut out of it.  Boring, not boring.

Neon house.  Such a cool vibe.

Woman hanging clothes on the line on a windy day.  I like the shadow.

My favorite was an installation of Dale Chihuly's Hart Window glass sculpture.

HUGE installation, For scale, those are double doors at the bottom, center.
This was installed in 1995 and at the time these were the largest pieces of glass ever blown.  Even with just 1 eye, I couldn't miss them!

19 December, 2021

Sunny Scenes From A Yoga Retreat on Ray Caye

Lots of photos today from a yoga retreat I went to back in May.  It was held on Ray Caye Private Island Resort and was real treat.  The retreat was led by the lovely Brice Dial, who owns Positive Vibrations Yoga in Placencia.  Brice made arrangements with the management at Ray Caye for an exceptionally good deal for the 20 of us who participated in the retreat - a sort of a post-lockdown soft-reopening for the resort.  We traveled on a large boat from Wild Orchid docks (Ray Caye's landside partner) on the Placencia Lagoon the 20 or so miles east out to Ray Caye.  The trip takes a little more than hour.

One of the Ray Caye boats.
All the Placencia businesses keep their big boats on the lagoon side of the Placencia Peninsula.
Departing from Wild Orchid Dock.
We arrived at Ray Caye, and did a quick temp scan and handwash before enjoying our welcome drinks.
Traditional Caribbean Rum Punch Welcome Drink.

Check out the cute garnish.
Then we checked into our rooms and got sorted before our first yoga practice.
View off the balcony of the room Melanie and I shared.
Most of the practices were held at the fitness studio, a nice open space that allowed us to forego masks for our sessions.
Plenty of room to spread out.
Brice had a lovely bag of goodies for us.
All kinds of Belizean treats in the bag.

Plus a scented candle.
After 2 yoga practices, we enjoyed our dinners at the open air restaurant.
Seafood pasta with clams.

Other practices were held on a platform above the sea.
Heading out to the platform for a practice.

The sunrise and sunset practices were especially wonderful out on the platform.  Note the solar panels that cover the walkway.
We also had time to explore the little caye and try out a kayak.  Other people went sailing, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, or just chilling by the pool.
Another view of the caye.

The food was delicious with many of the salad items grown right on the caye.  The head gardner gave me tour of the greenhouse, of which he is rightfully proud!
Arugula, tomatoes, basil, hot and sweet peppers in the greenhouse

Open air restaurant.
It was time depart before it seemed possible.
Casting off from the dock.

Incredible water

Farewell, Ray Caye.
It was an amazing time, not least because it was the first time I had socialized in over a year.  And the venue was perfect because we were outside most of the time in gorgeous surroundings.  I particularly enjoyed not having to cook!  I enjoyed it so much that I went another yoga retreat there in October (equally wonderful) and am signed up for the next one in January.